On the whole, I do not retain sharp memories of being nine years old. One recollection, however, remains clear. Our family had moved from one midwestern state to another. It was a pretty bleak November. At age nine, such a change was a lot easier than it would have been five years later. Still, uneasiness was the order of the day.

But not for long. Within a day or two of arrival, friendly faces appeared—kids about my age from across the street—first Gary Pugh, then Dennis and Bruce Leclere, soon Tom and Ron Russell. I’d say now that these friends became my lore-masters, introducing me to the mores of Twentieth Street and providing orientation to a new environment. Then it was simply finding guys who liked to play football, knew the best hills for sledding, and could be counted on to be there after school.

Years later, now married and supposedly more wise to the world, a similar felicity occurred. My wife and I, inveterate northerners, found ourselves in Tennessee. It was not, to be sure, the other end of the earth, but from the perspective of northeast Iowa or suburban New York, it was a long ways from home. Moving in, starting school, finding work—all involved significant amounts of stress.

So, too, might have been the effort to break into a new church. But after our very first service at the Reformed Presbyterian Church in Nashville, Don and Nancy Wilkes introduced themselves and insisted that we go out to eat. As natives, the Wilkeses provided a friendly introduction to our new and intimidating world that meant much more than they could have known.

Once or twice since then our family has found itself in new places where the equivalent of neighborhood chums or gracious local hosts did not appear. The difference was considerable. ...

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